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The Professional Photographer’s Starting Kit

In workshops and after speaking engagements, I’m often approached by amateur photographers looking for advice on making the transition to shooting professionally. My advice often focuses on honing one’s business skills to help cultivate a career in a difficult vocation. While honest, my advice is incomplete as it omits the nitty-gritty day-to-day details like marketing, client relations and personal development that so often determine success or failure. To provide a more comprehensive answer, here are two books that can help you through those ground-level details and help you make great strides toward making a living as a photographer.

VisionMongers: Making A Life and A Living In Photography
Before you hammer out a quick set of business cards, piece together a Web site and hang out your shingle as a photographer, you have to first ask yourself a series of hard questions: What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Who are my clients?

In his book,VisionMongers, photographer David duChemin expertly walks you through the thought process in clarifying your goals and beginning to craft a business and marketing strategy. His writing is clear, concise and encouraging, like a mentor gently helping you along your chosen path. I especially appreciate his willingness to talk about the difficulties, uncertainties and discomforts as they are a reality of building a business.

“Let me go on record. It’s hard,” duChemin writes “At times, it’s really hard. There are no rules and the rules we once had are changing so fast it makes my head spin. The markets are changing, and there is no template, scheme or other program that will guarantee you the ability to shoot the things you love and make a living at it.”

I only wish VisionMongers had given more attention to the practicalities of working as a professional photographer. For example, the section on garnering sponsorships is longer than the section on contracts. While sponsorships are an incredible opportunity to partner with a respected company, they should come later in your career once you’ve produced a bulk of work worthy of consideration by a sponsor. Contracts are a matter of great importance from day one. For that reason, I’ve added below a review of another photography business guide that I think fills in this gap.

While there is no magic bullet to help you build a successful career as a photographer, the advice and inspiration found in VisionMongers will help ignite the passions of any amateur photographer looking to go pro and provide sound direction and seasoned advice for getting started.

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography
Once you’re actively finding work, you’ll quickly find a whole host of questions you never anticipated. Challenges like contract terms, licensing, insurance and independent contract status never fit into the the idealized dream of what it’s like to be a photographer, but they do play an integral role in being a professional photographer.

Fortunately, ASMP’s Professional Business Practices in Photography picks up where VisionMongers leaves off. Light on inspiration, but heavy on pragmatic advice, Professional Business Practices in Photography offers detailed advice on contracts, estimating, model and property releases, work-for-hire agreements and more. In many cases, these sections come with boilerplate copy you can use and adapt for your own business needs.

In my years as an ASMP member, I’ve found the information provided in this book, on ASMP’s Web site and through ASMP members to be extraordinarily valuable.

Together, these two books, along with a seminar like I Need To Jumpstart My Business, or What Do I Charge, to be the quintessential $100 professional photography starter kit. With the information contained in these three resources at your disposal, you aren’t guaranteed success, but you’ll at least be given a fighting chance.

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